Sunday, January 13, 2008

Transplant Ethics in China

An article in today's China Daily describes China's effort to clean up its act with regard to transplantaion ethics.

China has been notorious for sale of organs - often "harvested" from executed prisonors - since a transplant doctor at NYU told the Village Voice in 2001 about patients who had come to him after purchasing kidneys in China for $10,000.

In May, 2007, China set new regulations for organ donation, limiting donation to spouses, close relatives, or "people who have a proven close relationship with the donors." In the case described today, two patients needing transplants had no good match within their own family, but family members from each were good matches for the other patient.

The new regulations prohibited He Yiwen's father from donating a kidney to He Zhigang, whose cousin was prepared to donate a kidney to He Yiwen. The hospital, however, ultimately carried out the kidney exchange, with the clear rationale that organ sale was not involved, and the two families were carrying out an arrangement that provided benefit to all.

In a previous posting I discussed the ethics of "medical tourism" - travel, typically from the developed world to developing areas, for treatment, including transplantation. Executing prisoners as a source of organs, like selling children for sexual exploitation, ranks high as a moral crime. If China is truly cleaning up its act in the domain of transplantation it will be a significant contribution to improved global medical ethics.

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